Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An Afternoon at the Kargil War Memorial, Drass

If there was one thing I knew I didn’t want to miss on the Srinagar-Leh highway, it was the Kargil War Memorial at Drass. Having seen it so many times on TV over the years, I just had to pay a visit to this place.

The Kargil War Memorial is located 5 kms from Drass town, the second coldest inhabited place in the world, towards Kargil. We had been enchanted with the changing scenery on the highway since the morning that day and when we entered the Memorial, suddenly it was taken over by an unexplained feeling of patriotism. Such is the vibe of the place that stands in the shadow of the mountains that saw the 1999 Kargil War.
 
The Flag that measures 37 ft x 25 ft is hoisted on a pole 100 ft tall, Kargil War Memorial, Drass

As we were crossing Drass earlier, we spotted a long and high stone wall along the road. “It was constructed overnight during the war, so as to safeguard the highway which was under attack from enemy fire,” our driver had told us. We observed that the wall was crumbling at several places, having taken all the firing in order to not cut off the Ladakh region from the rest of Kashmir and in extension, India. 

The Memorial itself is located on the foothills of the Tololing hill with an awe-striking landscape all around- snow clad mountains rising high on all sides. The memorial was constructed in memory of all the soldiers who fought in the War and lost their lives. The golden plaque right in the centre holds the names of all these brave men. The National Flag hoisted on a 100 ft poll flutters right above it. The Amar Jawan Jyoti remains lit at all times.

With a lot of tourists converging around that time, an army jawan gave us a briefing about the war and the importance of the location. I have read about the Kargil War before, but didn’t remember the minute details.

Owing to the location and the harsh winters, in 1998 India and Pakistan had made a pact that armies of both the countries would leave their bunkers on these hills and retreat to their respective sides during the winter, and will be back at their posts once the winter ends. In the summer of 1999, when the Indian army was on its way back to the mountain top bunkers, they discovered that the Pakistani army had taken over the Indian posts during the winters instead of retracing. What was shocking was Pakistan had taken over an area close to 200 square kilometers of the Indian side. The peace pact had been broken. The war began.



We were shown Tiger Hill and all the other mountain peaks as we listened to the brave stories of the Indian battalions.

We could see bunkers on top of the nearby mountains and wondered how the army lived in the harsh cold there. To think that the other side of these mountains was Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and how close we were to the Line of Control and to enemy fire, gave me goose bumps. But then here we were, standing safe, clicking pictures, laughing around, because of the efforts of the Indian Army to keep the country safe.

Today, 26th July, is the anniversary of the ending of the Kargil War which is celebrated as Vijay Diwas across the country. I used to see this in the news or elsewhere until last year but never really gave much thought to it. This year, perhaps after seeing the battlefield up close first-hand, somehow it doesn’t feel like just another day.

As we were leaving the memorial a few minutes later, the writing on the exit gate was something I cannot forget, perhaps because it is an important reminder of something that we do not tend to give much importance in our day-to-day life in the cities-

"When you go home, tell them of us
And say
For your tomorrow, we gave our today"

I captured Kargil War Memorial in my Ladakh vlogs and you can watch it here:


PS: I am leading a group trip to Ladakh from August 12th to 21st, 2017 and would like you to experience the Kargil War Memorial, among other activities. If interested, check the details here.

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